Volkswagen e-up! review

The Volkswagen e-up! is back with a bigger battery and more range, but its sister models offer better value

£20,000
Electric

Pros

  • Good to drive
  • Excellent visibility
  • Decent range

Cons

  • Rivals are far cheaper
  • Disappointing interior finish
  • No infotainment system

Next year will see the arrival of the long-awaited Volkswagen ID.3 hatchback, built on the multi-purpose MEB platform that'll underpin dozens of the Volkswagen Group’s electric vehicles over the coming years. However, it’s not due to support a city car until 2023, so in the meantime the firm is plugging the gap with this: the facelifted e-up! city car.

The latest e-up! has improved significantly from the model that first launched in 2014 in one key area: a new, more energy-dense 36.8kWh battery occupies the same physical space as the old 18.7kWh unit, returning up to 162 miles of range on a single charge.

The e-up! is compatible with CCS rapid chargers, and Volkswagen says that a 40kW DC supply will deliver a 0-80% top-up in around an hour. Plugging into a 7.2kW home wallbox will do the same job in just over four hours, while a full charge from a slower, three-pin household socket will take some 16 hours.

Drivers can use the We Connect smartphone app to monitor charging progress remotely, as well as pre-cool or pre-heat the interior ahead of a journey; a useful feature in the winter months when wielding an ice scraper can be a chore.

Beyond that, the e-up! recipe remains virtually unchanged, save for the addition of a few airbags, lane-keeping assistance and a new selection of body and roof colours.

This means the e-up! is as pleasant to drive as ever, with light steering and a planted feel on the road making it fun to steer around town. The car’s boxy shape and large windows make visibility great, too, giving you confidence behind the wheel.

Don’t be fooled by the 0-62mph figure, either: 11.9 seconds suggests that the e-up! is slow, but that couldn’t be further from the truth around town. The 82bhp electric motor delivers the same instant torque that most electric cars are known for, while a top speed of 81mph is enough to keep pace with traffic on the motorway.

At cruising speed, road noise is suppressed well by the car’s skinny tyres – leaving only wind noise to contend with – and at lower seeds, only a faint whir is audible from the motor.

Regenerative braking – which recycles forward momentum when slowing down into electricity, topping up the battery – features, and you can modulate the strength of the system. In its highest setting, the deceleration when lifting off the throttle is enough to bring the e-up! to a complete stop, making single-pedal driving possible for those skilled in the art of anticipating traffic flow.

Inside, the interior finish is a bit of a letdown considering the mooted price point; an estimated £20,000 after the government’s £3,500 plug-in discount has been applied. The layout is logical enough, but the materials used aren’t among Volkswagen's finest.

Meanwhile, there’s a decent amount of space for front passengers, although small families will find the e-up! a bit of a squeeze for everyday use. The boot is small, too, at 250 litres – enough for half-a-dozen bags of shopping – with the seats up. That said, those needing to transport larger items can fold the rears down for 923 litres of luggage capacity.

There’s no infotainment system, either: instead, there’s a smartphone cradle on top of the dashboard, leaving drivers to supply their own sat nav using the likes of Google Maps or Waze on their phone.

However, the e-up!’s biggest flaw is the competition it faces from within Volkswagen Group: the Skoda Citigoᵉ iV and the SEAT Mii electric are virtually identical under the metal, and offer the same package for less money. In the case of the Citigoᵉ iV, the saving will be huge given the confirmed starting price of £16,995 (albeit with less kit and no fast charging as standard).

UK sales of the e-up! are set to begin in January 2020: it needs a decent finance deal to make sense in the face of those cheaper yet just-as-capable alternatives.